Lark Break Up: Forced Out of Love  

by Evan Milton

Despite winning a South African Music Award, establishing a growing national fanbase and releasing two highly acclaimed albums, boundary-pushing 'glitch-opera' alternative four-piece Lark have announced that they are to disband - but not before they've set the record straight as to why.

Welcome to the interview as separation therapy. The scene: a comfortable lounge annexe of Sound And Motion Studios adjacent to Lark's practice space, courtesy of their double-bassist, multi-instrumentalist and SAMA-nominated sound engineer, Mr Simon Ratcliffe. The players: Ms Inge Beckmann, the jazz, opera and drama-trained frontwoman and lyricist of Lark, also a jazz cabaretist, prolific songwriter and actress; Mr Paul 'Humanizer' Ressel, producer, sound designer and rock-steeped electronica convert; Sean 'Mr Sakitumi' Ou Tim, multi-instrumentalist, sought-after session musician, road-travelled band veteran (Max Normal, Naked, Henry Ate) and the band's drummer; and Mr Simon 'Fuzzy' Ratcliffe himself. The occasion: Lark's last interview or, at least, the one where South African alternative music's brightest darkstar hope to explain why they're calling it quits. In attendance: your friendly neighbourhood music journalist, tonight functioning as archivist, sounding board and keeper of records.

 
'It was heart-wrenching for us,' says Beckmann, 'Going out there and getting told by people that we were the most incredible band, that they were so happy that a band like this existed - getting all of this encouragement, but none of the practical rewards. We weren't getting any of the big opportunities and we weren't making any money." Ratcliffe adds, 'We reached a point where, doing what we do and keeping our integrity, we either had to leave to go overseas, or to break up. I literally couldn't afford to be in the bands anymore in the sense that we had to spend so much time other things in order to be in Lark, not just focusing on it.' Ou Tim says, 'It was a case of feeling the abyss; we were all committed to making this the best band that it could be, but we were having to do so many other things that we couldn't get together and rehearse and create as much as we wanted to.' There are nods of assent, and then Ressel adds, "We got disheartened. After hearing all this praise, being awarded as South Africa's best alternative band and then... nothing. We're not afraid of working hard, we did everything ourselves, but it was this paradox of gigantic proportions and, when we got the news about CokeFest, it was just the final nail in the coffin.'
 
 
Much has been written about the South African component of the massive My Coke Fest concert scheduled for late March in Johannesburg and Cape Town, albeit mainly in the country's blogosphere - the intricacies of the business machinations behind the scenes of any large public event are not the staple of entertainment sections in newspapers or lifestyle shows on television. Suffice to say that the festival is crammed with global headlining alternative artists - bands like Britain's Muse and Kaiser Chiefs and America's Korn - and is the kind of big stage feather in the cap, with its possibility of international exposure, that the South African winner of the first ever "Best Alternative Album" award would logically expect to be perfectly suited for. But they're not on the bill, and it's an omission that cuts the four to the core.
 
'We mean no disrespect to the (South African) bands who are playing; we really like a lot of them,' starts Ratcliffe, 'It's from the other end...' Ressel steps in, 'To sum it up: being the band that last year won the South African Music Award and hearing that two of the world's biggest bands in the 'alternative' category are coming here, bands who have been a massive influence on us... it would be the perfect stage for our music, and when we were pushed aside, not even seriously considered it was...' He searches for the words. 'The straw that broke the camel's back,' says Ou Tim. Beckmann has been silent for a time; now the song-siren finds voice: 'It feels... disrespectful. Consider who is playing, and what we do, which is as hard and as heavy and then you think 'Is this coming from the angle that someone thinks that a chick can't headline along with these bands?'
 
 
 
They're silent, and the reverie is one that's resolute and resigned, rather than bitter. 'We've done the albums, got the fans, opened new doors for music, toured overseas, made music for movies and TV and played all the festival, but then what? It was very sobering,' says Beckmann. 'There was no anger after the initial frustration; it was 'Look, that's just the way it is',' adds Ressel. 'In some ways, we even knew that it wasn't a surprise,' continues Ou Time. Then Ratcliffe finishes, 'It's not like not getting one gig meant we decided to stop the band, but it was really the one thing that made it clear: after all that we've done, and this is where we get to. What's the point? And we didn't want to be a band that just disappeared and everyone had the rumours of the 'creative differences', so we wanted to explain what happened, and why.'
 
Lark's last album was named 'Razbliuto', a damningly ironic title in retrospect. It is, apparently, a Russian colloquialism meaning 'the feeling you get when you no longer love someone anymore'. It seems painfully - darkly - apt that this is their swan song, a schwanengesang of by their dying black swan, as these four creatives who, despite being fare more than the sum of their parts, were simply, methodically and starkly forced by circumstance to fall out of love with what was, arguably, their true calling. Paraphrasing their semi-autobiographical song, 'Weights': Lark did scare, it did move, it did make people love and hate them but, now, it no longer shines the wondrous light. 
 
En route to the interview I'd communicate with two 'alternative' female musicians, one who treads a brave aesthetic path on the fringes of electronica, the other who bends classical training to diverse ends, some formal, the others powered by groove. 'Off to do the 'last post' Lark interview,' I'd tapped in a scribbled sms. Exiting the studio lounge into Cape Town's gloaming and bidding a sad farewell to the band, I read the reply, 'sounds like a genre; 'post Larkism'. Maybe they did open doors, blaze trails, open perceptions and breach a few barriers; maybe the tricksy shadows are too strong for any cold light to snuff entirely. Here's hoping...
 
--
 
Ressel and Ratcliffe are completing production on a live DVD of Lark's seminal "Mouth Of Me' re-release theatre-meets-trip-hop performance at Theatre @ The Pavilion, which many see the light of day and may include rough edits of the band's recent foray into 'unplugged' shows, and video of other performances. After a Joburg gig at 88, Lark's final performance is at Ramfest (Fri 29 Feb - Sun 2 Mar) on Saturday, 1 March. Also on the bill at the festival are Battery 9, Kobus, Pestroy, Agro and Mind Assault, amongst others, and a seconds stage featuring Kidofdoom, Unit.R, 7th Son and Inge Beckmann's alma-mater, The Spindle Sect, as well as the official South African Air Guitar Championships (Nekkies, Worcester, R225 pre-sold at outlets, R250 at gate, see Ramfest.co.za and MySpace.com/RamFestival). More details on Lark.co.za and on MySpace.com/LarkSA.
 

This column originally appeared in the Cape Argus 'Tonight; section on 23/24 February 2009. Find out more on Tonight.co.za.

 





Music journalist, Digital marketing strategist, SA Music Awards judge and radio DJ for Fine Music Radio.

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